Catholic leaders have joined lawmakers and civic figures from 18 countries in calling on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to end police brutality against pro-democracy protesters and start listening to their demands.
The call comes after continued unrest in China’s Special Administrative Region during the Christmas period.
In an open letter to Lam they expressed “grave concerns at the recent escalation in police brutality over the Christmas period,” and urged her to establish an independent inquiry into the conduct of police and their use of force against protesters, saying they would seek an international probe if she refused to act.
Among the Catholics who signed the letter were Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Bo as president of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, Dr. John Dayal, former president of the All India Catholic Union, Britain’s Lord Alton, as well as Catholic politicians Mantas Adomenas from Lithuania, Jan Figel and Miriam Lexmann from Slovakia.
They were among 40 leading figures who also included Alissa Wahid, daughter of late Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid and politicians from the U.S., Canada, Australia and Ireland.
In the letter published on Hong Kong Watch’s website, they urged Lam, who is Catholic, to rethink the government’s position towards the protesters and listen to their demands through establishing dialogue.
They said they were left “horrified” at reports of police “firing teargas, pepper-spray and rubber bullets at close-range at shoppers, peaceful protesters and innocent by-standers over the Christmas period.
“We are profoundly disturbed by scenes of children and young people being severely beaten, and of rubber bullets being fired into people’s faces,” the letter said.
The protests started in June against plans to allow criminal suspects be extradited to mainland China, which critics feared would compromise Hong Kong’s judicial independence under the “one country, two systems” arrangement agreed with former ruler Britain.
Although the plans were scrapped in September protests have continued with demands by protesters for full democracy and an inquiry into police brutality.
Police accuse protesters of using violence against them and looting shops in malls across the city.
So far police have made around 6,500 arrests during the more than seven months of unrest.
“We appeal to you to use your authority and exercise your responsibility to seek genuine ways forward out of this crisis by addressing the grievances of Hong Kong people, bringing the Hong Kong Police Force under control, ensuring accountability and an end to impunity for serious violations of human rights, and beginning a process of democratic political reform,” the letter urged Lam.
The signatories called on her to agree to protesters demands for an independent inquiry into police brutality, think about making reforms.
Lam has only offered to invite experts to sit on a committee to look at the causes of the unrest.
“Should you continue to reject this idea, we call on the international community to establish an international, independent inquiry mechanism,” they wrote without elaborating.
They also warned Lam that Hong Kong officials could be subjected to U.S. sanctions if they are found responsible for human rights violations.
The group was referring to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which allows Washington to place sanctions on foreign officials accused human rights abuses.
The Hong Kong government has called the claims in the letter “unfounded and misguided.”
“We are gravely concerned that the claims in their letter are biased and misleading. The HKSAR government must rebut them to ensure they truly understand the extent of violence by radical protesters and the attacks they have made on the police and citizens,” a spokesman said in a statement released early on Jan. 1.
“Masked rioters have vandalized public facilities and shops, committed arson, hurled petrol bombs as well as wantonly attacked police officers and people with different views in various districts, seriously undermining public order,” he said.
The spokesman claimed officers had adhered to international human rights standards by applying appropriate force.